Catholics are reeling from a Pennsylvania grand jury’s recent shocking revelation of the sexual abuse of at least 1,000 children over the past 70 years by some 300 priests, and the widespread , ongoing cover-up by the Church hierarchy. This disturbing notice comes on the heels of the news of ongoing sexual abuse of minors and adult seminarians by Archbishop (retired) Theodore McCarrick (McCarrick’s beach house sleepovers were reportedly an “open secret” within the Church).
In response, Pope Francis has now issued a letter to the faithful in which he condemns these most recent revelations of abuse within the Church and the duplicity of Church officials. “We showed no care for the little ones,” Pope Francis said, “we abandoned them.” Francis went on to say, “I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.”
Very nice words that don’t sit well with me.
As a Catholic, I feel no need or responsibility to conduct a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting to atone for abuse of the innocent by the evil. Most Catholics, if their hearts (and souls) are moved by the Spirit, are already in solidarity in care and concern for the victims of this tragedy. The Church is entirely at fault here. In concealing these crimes and aiding these abusive clergyman to escape justice, the Church is complicit, and therefore guilty. They put financial gain and reputation ahead of the welfare of the innocent. The Church’s deception, pridefulness, and greed has been weighing on my mind as I searched for the proper words to express the faithful’s deep disappointment and discontent. Quite by accident (or perhaps not), I stumbled across a facebook posting that perfectly summarized what most Catholics are feeling these days.
In response to Pope Francis’ letter calling for fasting and penance of the faithful, Minnesota resident and lifelong Catholic, Lauren Murphy, posted the following on facebook: ”It pains me to say this, but NO. There are parts of this letter that are lovely, comforting, and sorrowful. But there are other parts that, I think, strike a very wrong chord. Yes, we are all baptized into this church together. Yes, we are called to solidarity with one another and with those who experience injustice. Yes, we need to lift one another up in prayer always. But to call the “entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting” in order to “awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity? A big, giant NO. Prayer and fasting are important and meaningful practices, but for the majority of the People of God, our consciences are awake and we are furious. We, the People of God, have been standing astounded - and not in a good way - at the abusive behavior of some of our priests and bishops for decades. We are not the ones who need penance, unless we were knowingly complicit in the actions of these men. The shepherds of our flock are. We are one baptized community, and what one person does affects us all. But to say we all need to engage in penitential prayer risks spreading the blame and not holding those who perpetrated these crimes accountable. When a child is put in time-out, her parents generally don’t sit with her, nor does the person she hit or bit or kicked or stole from. Maybe this is a time for a division of offerings. Our priests and bishops fast and pray; they humbly ask forgiveness from those they have abused and those affected by their actions. The People of God lament and pray that our hearts are opened enough to offer forgiveness. Perhaps then we can together acknowledge this pain and find ways forward.”
Ms. Murphy has insightfully and sensitively expressed what is in the minds and hearts of Catholics everywhere and rightfully suggests priest and bishops, not the People of God, engage in fasting and penitential prayer. To this I will add: prayer and remorse of Church officials is not enough. There needs to be justice. Accountability. Every single priest proven to be a sexual predator should be defrocked and imprisoned, and every Church official who knowingly concealed these crimes should be penalized as well. Priests are mortal men, not saints, and no man is above the law.
What, if anything, will heal the Church? How will we come together, acknowledge pain, as Ms. Murphy suggests, and find ways to move forward? Through prayer by all and for all. Through the repentance of the guilty. Through action, not pretty words. And through justice for the victims.
The Catholic Church must practice what it preaches. It must protect the faithful, and above all, guard the children.
Special thanks to Lauren Murphy for graciously allowing me to quote her facebook post.